It’s hard to write about this movie. Attempts are usually defeated by a combination of dissolving into squees, dance breaks, and the weird contradiction of knowing absolutely nothing about it while simultaneously notating an ever-growing list of why it’s so good.
In brief, James Bond 777 (1971, directed by K. S. R. Doss; available on youtube without subtitles and missing some songs but featuring a cleaner print than the screengrabs in this post are from) is approximately two-thirds chases and fights spread over and among the various characters: the titular hero Kishore (Krishna), his partner in crime-fighting Sopa (Vijaya Lalitha), a bad guy named Boss, and his principal henchperson Jamilla (Jyothi Laxmi, who also plays Jamilla’s twin, whose raison d’être can be explained by one scene that I will come to in a moment).
As in many films from India and elsewhere, our story opens with Boss killing the hero’s parents in front of him. Krishna grows up, passes some training sequences dressed as a cowboy, and becomes the titular agent. I won’t spoil things for you, but you will soon see that Sopa too has a reason to go after Boss. Whip-wielding Jamilla runs HQ underneath a beauty parlor in the aid of Boss’s evil masterplan. I actually can’t tell you what it is—and not in a supervillain “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you” sort of way—because I don’t know any Telugu. According to the trailer embedded above, it’s something about secret papers; in any event, I’m sure it’s very worthy of being foiled. Add in the necessary familial revenge and there’s plenty of excuse for infinite rounds of chasing and fighting.
The remainder of its run time is filled with many elements that fans of popular Indian cinema know and love and even a few we don’t (or at least I didn’t):
- childhood trauma and family tragedy,
- a villain’s crew in cheerful matching gondolier-y outfits of boaters and giant neckerchiefs,
- several fabulous songs, linked by some of the most enjoyable background music I have ever heard,
- a huge range of disguises and makeup lewks made of many layers of pancake,
- lairs and control rooms,
- a seduction-of-the-hero scene on a spinning bed that would make Austin Powers proud,
- adorable dogs who attack their master’s enemies and rob a bank, and
- a dance-off and fight between Jamilla and her twin, one dressed in cabaret wear and the other in tight knits with gaping holes. Apart from the difficulties in fight choreography and filming, I can’t imagine why more Indian films, with their love of twins, don’t use the device of a performer fighting themself. Think of the moral struggles it can illustrate, not to mention the good plain fun of the staging and stunts.
The music of James Bond 777 could make its own post. It is fab and mod and groovy and every other positive adjective from ca. 1963 to 1971 you can think of. It is a great tragedy that so few of the songs are on youtube, but I recommend just playing the whole in the background while you go about your daily affairs to give yourself a certain air of adventure and fabulousness. If I had to pick a favorite song, it’s Sopa and Kishore’s cabaret number, in which she is undercover as a dancer named Miss Kismet (or possibly Miss Kiss-Miss, I couldn’t quite tell) and shaking all she’s got. Her outfit is all feathers and dangling crystals and neck-to-ankle sequins, and she and Kishore dance all over a club themed around the suits in a deck of cards with a light-up floor like a giant Simon game.
The background score is also phenomenal. It may overuse the hero’s theme—a strong female voice wails “James Bond! Triple seven!” while a chorus punctuates with “Seven seven seven!”—but it’s so full of surf guitars and scampering vocables that all is forgiven. It’s reminiscent of a combination of the Swingle Singers and the Russian “trololo” guy, a combination that conjures up the swingin’-est club you and I will never get to go to because, sadly, we are neither Dick Dale, Sean Connery, nor Lawrence Welk.
I love the Emma Peel-ness of the women—not just in mod clothes (though those are very awesome) but in can-do attitude and kick-ass-ery. In addition to the Jyothi Laxmi twin fight, Vijaya Lalitha is involved in several stunts and brawls as befits her character. Before fighting off a handful of baddies with big wooden sticks, Sopa takes a second to tuck the hem of her sari up into its waistband to form trousers that enable much better range of motion. And even better, all of the female characters are as important as the men: they do things, they have responsibilities, and they forward and are integrated into the plot. It’s truly a team effort.
My only complaint about this film might be due just to the version I watched, but it seems to be missing almost all transitions between scenes. I’ve seen two other K. S. R. Doss films and they certainly move from action to action. But this one was especially…thinly connected, if zealous. The filmmaking approach seems to be determined by the principle that as soon as one chase is over, it’s immediately time to show a different chase with different people in a different location, all without any build-up or context. For example, early in the film, a man is kidnapped from a train station, tucked into a car, and sped across the city. The bad guys press a button and fill his car with poisonous gas and he screams. A split second later we see a lovely row of trees in a park, violins surge, and in a long-distance shot Kishore spreads his arms and bellows, launching us into a hero-glamorizing romp of a song in which he frolics in a park with eight leggings-and-tunics-clad women as he wiggles, pants, and shouts “Yahoooo!”
James Bond 777 may not make a lot of sense—and somehow I suspect not knowing the language is not quite the usual level of hindrance—but it’s so incredibly spirited and big-hearted that it produced a sincerely happy confusion. “Nary a dull moment” doesn’t do justice to Doss and company’s rollicking, stylish, exuberant spree. Is it the best Indian movie you probably haven’t seen yet? Probably not. Is it the most 1971-Indian-spy-flavored fun you can have without subtitles and narrative transitions? Heck yeah!
Many thanks to Friend of the Gutter and expert in Indian film anipals Die Danger Die Die Kill, whose write-up you should refer to for commentary on the actual filmmaking and cinematic context. And if you need more picture-browsing fun, friend-of-Friends of the Gutter Cinema Chaat has some screen grabs from a slightly cleaner print.